Review: Defying Gravity – the Complete Series / Cert: 15 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Ron Livingston, Laura Harris, Ty Ollson, Christina Cox / Release Date: February 25th
It was mission aborted after only one season for this ambitious show, which is a shame because it at least tries to bring something different to telly sci-fi, albeit with mixed results. Some forty years in the future, a team of astronauts go on a grand tour of the Solar System – seven planets in six years. But what they don't know initially is that a strange entity is hitching a ride in one of the storage pods and dictating their every move. When they do find out, you can bet it gives them pod for thought.
Defying Gravity comes from the same stable as Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, and it's basically a soap in the sometimes wistful, sometimes comedic vein of those shows, but in space. Or at least partly in space. Because we also spend a fair bit of time on Earth, as a consequence of regular crosscutting to Mission Control and numerous flashbacks to the crew's first year of training.
This latter device immediately identifies Defying Gravity as one of those shows that jumped on the Lost bandwagon just when audience enthusiasm for that whole flashbacky thing was starting to wane. It poses particular problems here. Primarily this is because the flashbacks themselves aren't all that gripping, centring as they do on the crew's romantic entanglements with one another – the sort of antics that are fine for the characters in 90210 but that seem beneath the dignity of highly trained spacemen and women (Desperate Astronauts?). But they also have the more insidious effect of undermining the sense of isolation, the separation from all things Earthly, that is kind of the point of a story of this nature. And – like red shift – the further into space we go, the longer the flashbacks seem to become.
On the bright side, the show looks stupendous on DVD, going for a chilly, 2001: A Space Odyssey-style aesthetic, all Teflon and touchscreens. There are some clever details (a rabbit foetus floating in zero gravity, one of the astronauts vlogging in Splanglish for the benefit of classrooms back on Earth), and later episodes take a darker, more sharply questioning tack as the mission seems doomed to failure and of more and more questionable validity (you get the impression morale was seriously low in the writer's room by this stage). Heading the cast, Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers) brings bags of folksy charm to his role as Donner, a veteran haunted by a calamitous Mars landing, and the behind-the-lens talent includes Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) on directorial duties. A worthy attempt, then, to do grown-up, emotionally rich, character-driven SF – but it ends up seeming like hard SF with a soft centre and not quite the real deal.
Extras: Mission Accomplished – a look at Defying Gravity / Photo slideshow / Deleted Scenes / Character profiles